We Need Consistency in Restaurant Grading

After obtaining several million health department inspections, reviewing tens of thousands of health department reports, sifting through hundreds of health department websites and analyzing dozens of scoring schema I offer some conclusions.

We need consistency in restaurant grading.

 Consistency in restaurant grading score card

A+ Restaurant Food Safety RatingThe FDA has developed, over decades, a simple inspection report card. Using this standardized report card is the first key to consistency. In my blog titled “Problems With Restaurant Food Safety Grading”, I review variances in food safety definitions.

There can be very few reasons not to use a universal score card and none of them hold any merit in the goal of improving the public health.

Consistency in restaurant grading compliance measurements

 This becomes a greater challenge. As professionals, Health Department Inspectors are rightfully given latitude to make judgement on compliance. If the variance becomes too great it becomes unfair to the restaurant and confusing to the public. Ultimately everyone loses faith in the process. In my blog “Problems with Restaurant Food Safety Grading” I discuss the reaction to this unfairness. The Dining Grades Inc. database has identified major inconsistencies in compliance measurement. Between 97-100% of all inspections are perfect in multiple jurisdictions, yet the probability of getting a perfect grade in other jurisdictions may be as low as 28%.

Consistency in restaurant grading reporting results

B Restaurant Food Safety Rating “There is something very recognizable about the A, B, C letter grading and it’s something that people can relate to because they know what A, B and C means from a lifetime of experience,” Angelo Bellomo, Director of the LA County’s EH Program said. “If we can maintain the credibility of our letter grading in L.A. and actually enhance and improve it then I would say it’s better.”

The public can easily be confused by reports listing type and number of violations, demerits, numerical scores, color systems; words like intermediate, priority foundation, core; adjectives like excellent, good etc. There is no logical reason not to use letter grades. We are all familiar with grading on a curve. To divide and report inspections in any other way is simply confusing.

It has been challenging converting variant scoring systems into a letter grade, but with over 6 million health department reports in our database, Dining Grades Inc. has created adjustment rules, applied standard mathematical principles of distribution curves and created a nationalized grading system.

Consistency in access to restaurant grading data

 Universal access to health department data is essential for widespread public use. It is unreasonable to expect that the public will search jurisdictional websites. It becomes simply lost in a maze of websites. The public is left to rely on limited opinions of their peers rather than expert evaluations of a restaurant’s food safety. In my blog titled “Restaurant Grading is Difficult to Find and Understand” I discuss problems with health department website variability.

One of our goals at DiningGrades.com is providing a universal reporting system offering widespread access to health department data. That system and access is now a valuable resource for the public in choosing restaurants putting a high priority on food safety excellence.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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